McKinney’s bill aims to protect inmates, stop prison construction in Nebraska

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – On Monday, a new bill was introduced in the Nebraska Legislature that could bring a number of reforms to the state’s prisons and jails.

“There’s nobody in this state or in this country that can say the criminal justice system in the state of Nebraska is running effectively,” Sen. Terrell McKinney said.

His bill, LB 163, would provide protections for inmates like restricting prisons from copying their mail.

It would also raise the pay of prisoners working while incarcerated.

“They’re not slaves; they’re humans, and we should be paying them like humans,” McKinney said. “We have to make sure that if the state is taking on the responsibility of housing them, that we’re treating them like humans, we’re paying them like humans, we’re not exploiting them.”

The bill would also allow the Judiciary Committee to provide oversight of the Department of Correctional Services during an overcrowding emergency.

Sen. Robert Clements, who said he would oppose the bill, said this is a separation of powers issue because it would take over the responsibilities of the governor.

One of the most notable parts of the bill is that it would prohibit the construction or expansion of prisons until the Legislature can determine that the number of people admitted and staying at Nebraska prisons has declined over a 20-year period.

Clements said this is too restrictive and prevents Nebraska from building the prisons needed to address overcrowding.

He also said that the state penitentiary is in poor condition and said Nebraska has had to move inmates to other prisons because of that.

“We had a water main break there — there was 100 inmates that had to get transferred — and it’s gonna take two years to fix,” Clements said. “A new facility would be more efficient, takes less manpower, more technology, and especially more space for programming, for rehabilitation of inmates.”

Just last week, then-Gov. Pete Ricketts said the penitentiary needed to be replaced because it’s too old.

He also said it’s up to Gov. Jim Pillen and the Nebraska Legislature to work on prison reform this year and ensure that people on parole and probation have help with mental health, housing and drug rehabilitation.

McKinney thinks the state should be doing more to prepare those incarcerated for success when they return to society.

“A lot of times when we speak about criminal justice, we speak about changes in sentencing,” he said. “But we also have to look at what’s going on inside of these institutions. Why are these issues persisting, and why are we having so many people go in and out?”

Last year, Sen. Steve Lathrop’s justice reform bill failed after senators disagreed over rehabilitation and addressing overcrowding.

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